What is Clinical Pharmacy? And Why I Call Myself a Clinical Pharmacist

As I was going through pharmacy school and working as an intern, I was often astounded by what patients think pharmacists do in their everyday jobs. When I tell people that I’m a pharmacist (especially non-medical people) it usually leads to a line of questioning about counting pills, pill bottles and standing behind a counter.  I think this is an unfortunate, but an important perception that pharmacists shouldn’t ignore.    Looking at the photo above (courtesy Rhoda Baer), maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by the public perception?  In the photo, pill bottles are everywhere and the pharmacist is giving the gentleman his medication.  My job is a little unique in pharmacy as I don’t dispense medications.  Don’t misinterpret this post as indicating that filling and dispensing medications is not important.  As someone who has taken medications and given medications to my children, the job of getting the right medication to the right patient is of premium value.

The strong public perception of pharmacists as simply “dispensing machines” is a frustrating one for me.  We all certainly do way more than that.  I don’t believe we are likely to change the public perception of “What is Pharmacy” until pharmacists stop being a part of the dispensing process.  So how do we convey a better message that we do more than simply put “pills in the bottle”?

What is Clinical Pharmacy?  Per ACCP, “Clinical Pharmacy is a health science discipline in which pharmacists provide patient care that optimizes medication therapy and promotes health, wellness, and disease prevention.”  By definition clinical pharmacy can be done and is done anywhere.

Why do I call myself a clinical pharmacist?  When I tell people I’m a pharmacist, I know for most folks, I’m going to be instantly put in that box of standing behind a counter giving this gentleman his medication.  When I call myself a clinical pharmacist, I’m able to rebrand myself.  If you think about someone’s response to my statement, you can see how it totally reshapes the conversation.  Most patients don’t know what clinical pharmacy is and usually respond with something like “What is that?”  “Or what do you do everyday?” You can see how using the term clinical pharmacy does actually matter.  Doing this allows me to paint a different picture of what pharmacists do beyond the perception of putting pills in the bottle and giving it to the patient.

Looking for medication pearls from my real world experiences?  Check out the FREE PDF I created – 30 medication mistakes that every healthcare professional should know!


  1. Mtnmikerx

    Let me begin by saying that I’ve supported you and the work that you do in conjunction with pharmacist education, I’ve even purchased your BCPT exam test questions to use as a personal CE study guide on current treatments, but your recent post on “Clinical “Pharmacist” troubles me some.
    30 years ago the recognized degree program was a BSPharm, with a limited opportunity to apply for a 1 or 2 year residency program. So over the years I’ve watched a game of pharmacy chess where the “schools” have pushed this mindset of a futuristic “Clinical “Pharmacist”, the great “PharmD”, which can be purchased by the simple addition of 10 one month rotations (as opposed to the 1000 hour externship requirement for licensure in the past). I now see these new “Doctor of Pharmacy” degree earning students entering the workforce (not to mention the additional $30-$50 K debt) with an entitlement mentality and almost brainwashed to believe that they are the only ones capable of making a pharmacological decision on behalf of a patient they most likely just met during their current admission. It is with this attitude that they meander around the halls of their local hospital, white lab coat on (hopefully laundered, start he’d and pressed) with pockets full of peripheral brains and charts, just waiting for someone to request the expert management of a patient as the physician leaves the floor.
    I realize this may be a little harsh (and it’s not a personal attack on you), but just ponder on the content and realize that each one of us is a “Clinical Pharmacist”. We all have competencies in pharmacology, Pkinetics, ABX stewardship and Lab result interpretation. Our practice setting may change from Retail, Hospital, Clinic/Office, VA or Nuclear, but the pharmacist is the same. The point is, we don’t need to drive a wedge into the various practice sites and thereby creating 2 (or more) classes of pharmacist. The profession of pharmacy holds a great heritage, in part because we stand united. If the push is for provider status, it shall be for all of us. If we want to insure the livelihood of our profession than we need to have a united front and stop the flooding of the market by over zealous pharmacy schools dumping out more graduates then those retiring. I question their motives, as they most certianly appear to be self serving.
    So regardless of your practice cite, you/we are all ” Clinical Pharmacists”.

  2. Amanuel T

    I don’t think there is a need nor is it appropriate for pharmacists to attack one another with regard to how we should be defined by the public.
    The public’s misperception of pharmacist’s role in the provision of health is not a new phenomena and we have but us to blame.
    When other organizations try to define and put a regulation and/or a restriction on how or to what capacity we should serve the sick, we kept silent. On a retail settings, we did not demand for additional staffing so we could spend quality time counseling patients on how they should take their medications appropriately. Is it not the whole purpose of the ‘ Consultation Room’? How often do we invite our patients to the consultation room for proper counseling?
    What makes one fall into the classification of a clinical pharmacist has primarily to do with his/her role(s) in the delivery of care. It has little to do with his/her title,if any, as one writer wrongly asserted. In my practice significant number of our pharmacists who deliver clinical services hold a BSPharm. And they do a damn good job at it.
    As a profession, Pharmacy has certainly come a long way and students have now more opportunities to practice in a wide variety of clinical services , be it in retail, hospital or industrial settings.
    Personally, while I’m and will always be proud of my pharmacy profession I will nonetheless seek for means to advance my roles in healthcare. If that means redefining my job descriptions and even the title that comes along with it, I’m all for it.

  3. chri1599

    Thanks for the comments, and I’m deeply grateful for the support of all who have purchased content from this website. Because of that support, this mission will not stop. The goal of this post was to unite pharmacists, not divide. I’m stating why I call myself a clinical pharmacist to demonstrate the marketing or branding purpose behind it. I believe all pharmacists should call themselves “clinical pharmacists”.

    If you go talk to anyone in the public and ask them to describe what a pharmacist does, how many do you think would say that pharmacists “identify appropriate doses” or “identify drug interactions that help keep me from getting hurt”, or “educate me about my medications”? From my experience, pharmacists are seen FIRST as dispensers. This might be skewed by the older patient population I serve, but I think this is prevalent in the younger (non-medical) population as well. I recently had a discussion with someone who didn’t realize that a hospital would have pharmacists working there. NOT KIDDING.

    When you ask a patient what a clinical pharmacist is, you get the opportunity to educate them about what we “all” do, because the majority of patients haven’t heard this term utilized. Using this term allows us to be seen FIRST as a great source of information and educator of medications.

    Just try it, the next time someone asks you what you do for a living, call yourself a clinical pharmacist and see what they say.

  4. Sheshagiri gandasi

    I totally endorse the opinion of Amanuel T, while accepting partially, what Chris Ed has advocated. It may be true that in public view, a Pharmacist is a Compounder and best a Medicine Seller/Dispenser. Even with all the facilities and Know how available,the Community Pharmacy Scenario is not as green as it is made out to be, even in the US. Some dub it a Dying Profession with invasion of chain & net pharmacy offering medicines at door steps sans pharmacist intervention. Patient Counseling is a rare phenomenon in the big Pharmacies.
    Will the things change if you call yourself a Clinical Pharmacist and start explaining to people (if they bother to inquire)about what you are capable of doing, unless you are allowed to discharge those duties by your employer whose eyes are set on profits and target achievements? In a Hospital setting, a Clinical Pharmacist might have well chalked out duties including patient counseling , adverse reaction reporting, medication therapy management etc., but a trader Pharmacy has little to offer in this regard, nor is it sought by the patients at large. Unless it is well supported by strong legal requirements, the demand for Clinical Pharmacy Practice in place of Pharmacy practice is lone voice destined to go unnoticed.
    “A Rose is a Rose by what ever name you call it”, but it is shattered by the same thorns claiming to protect it.

    • Bhagavan P.S.

      The mismatch of the need and what service is available from A to Z ie: from beginning to end is reflected in the expression of public perception and equally so on media perception.

      The hasty ‘Run’ to catch up with the modern variants of pharmacy physically and quantitatively has failed the public and the profession.

  5. Mtnmikerx

    Let me first apologize, to you Eric, and to any of my peers that I may have offended in my comments, and to those I ask your forgiveness. The whole purpose was to bring home a very significant point for us as a profession, and my poor attempt at that was salvaged (and I thank you very much) by the passionate response written by Mr. Amanuel T and further substantiated by Mr. Gandsai.
    We are not in this dialogue, or others concerning the profession, purposing to degrade or dismantle our proud heritage. Yes, we are composed of many titles, and just as many educational backgrounds and experiences, but bottom line, we are one and all, “Clinical Pharmacists”. As Eric said, so simply, tell the patient’s we talk to that we are Clinical Pharmacist’s and what we do. This is the only way to reach the collective goals we all carry inside. Whether we’re in industry, sales, research, hospital, institutional, retail, compounding or medical home, we are all CLINICAL PHARMACIST’s!! It’s time to educate the world. We are the whole package.

    • chri1599

      No worries at all, apology accepted…I’ve made mistakes posting things online and have needed to apologize in the past as well and will likely need forgiveness again in the future. Nobody is perfect. I appreciate the passion, and am extremely grateful for the 1,000’s of healthcare professionals who have come out of the woodwork to support this undertaking. We are changing the world, one post at a time.

      • Mtnmikerx

        Thank you!

  6. Roseline Okwura

    How can one purchase your BCPS book online? Is it the one with 200 case scenario questions?

  7. robert bliss

    I’ve been in pharmacy a long time, born into it , raised behind mt father’s store. I have worked retail, hospital had my own business etc, and we have made some strides as far as who we are and what we do, or can do, but the public , or professional
    perception of us is not where it should be,
    I heard an interview on NPR about a vitamin book, the author at the end said always consult your physician first, shouldn’t she have said always consult your physician or pharmacist. That is about where we are.

    • chri1599

      Agree…we need to keep educating/showing folks what we can do!

  8. Atlanticrx99@yahoo.com

    Machines will do everything you do and more. Counseling can be done over Internet skype or FaceTime type of mode. No need for pharmacist.

  9. Dr Jayant B Dave

    I appreciate your viewpoint that calling ourselves as Clinical pharmacist instead of Pharmacist will induce common people to think of pharmacists as more than mere pill dispensing machines at best with a small piece of advice. This will also compel the pharmacist to think and perform beyond traditional storage & dispensing role. According to me no pharmacist is complete until one renders some clinical function irrespective of the mail role played by him/her. I also wish to use this platform to convey Pharmacy Council of India to include CLINICAL PHARMACY as one of the M Pharm courses besides approved program of Pharmacy Practice


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Written By Eric Christianson

April 22, 2015

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